Predicting the NHL All-Star Game Starters 5 Years from Now

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2015

Predicting the NHL All-Star Game Starters 5 Years from Now

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    Susan Walsh/Associated Press

    Since 1986, the National Hockey League has determined its All-Star Game starters by fan vote.

    Many times in the 29 years since then, 12 players in total were chosen as starters—divided either by Conference or by the short-lived "North America vs. The World" structure that ran from 1998-2002.  

    Since 2011, the NHL has allowed just six starters from the entire league to be determined by fan vote, then selected a big batch of deserving players who are assigned to teams through a fantasy draft format.

    Over the years, we've seen that fan votes can become popularity contests, which lead to unusual results that don't necessarily correlate with player merit. For example, in 2012 the natives of the host city of Ottawa voted four of their Senators into the starting lineup last time the All-Star Game was held. This year, it was the citizens of Latvia who came together and made the Buffalo Sabres' 21-year-old center Zemgus Girgensons the league's top vote-getter. 

    Thinking about which players could be All-Star starters in five years' time, we'll have to discount the potential for hometown fans who vote until their fingers bleed or whimsical viral campaigns that might take over the Internet in 2020.

    This list will focus on the most deserving players who could be named All-Star starters five years down the road, whether they're decorated veterans or ascending young guns.

    Who do you think will be making their mark at the dawn of the next decade?

Left Wing: Alex Ovechkin

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age in January, 2020: 34

    2014-15 Stat Line: 46 GP, 27-16-43

    Why He's an All-Star

    Alex Ovechkin is currently the top-scoring active left wing in the NHL, with 449 goals in 725 NHL games over nine-and-a-half seasons. If he stays healthy for the next five years and maintains his rate of production, he'll be flirting with the 700-goal mark around the time of the 2020 All-Star Game.

    That would put him onto the list of the Top 10 goal-scorers of all time, according to QuantHockey, with plenty of good years left to pad those numbers and earn true "Legend" status.

    It's hard to imagine Ovechkin as a revered NHL elder statesman, but that's almost certainly how he'll be perceived in five years' time.

    Honorable Mentions

    Max Pacioretty, Jaden Schwartz, Johnny Gaudreau

Center: Connor McDavid

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    Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

    Age in January, 2020: 23

     2014-15 Stat Line: 23 GP, 21-39-60 (Erie Otters, OHL)

    Why He's an All-Star

    A decade ago, generational talents Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin made their first appearances as All-Star starters in 2006-07, their second NHL seasons. After that, Crosby in particular became an All-Star staple.

    If "Next Big Thing" Connor McDavid lives up to his billing after he's drafted this June, expect him to step into Crosby's skates as North America's new face of hockey, complete with with all the sponsorship deals and media attention.

    McDavid is a talented and hardworking player who has been preparing for his shot in the NHL his whole life. Expect him to quickly become—and stay—the center of attention.

    Honorable Mentions

    Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Ryan Johansen

Right Wing: Vladimir Tarasenko

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Age in January, 2020: 28

    2014-15 Stat Line: 46 GP, 24-23-47

    Why He's a Future All-Star

    The way Jaromir Jagr's going, he might still be the best right-winger in the game when he's 47 in 2020. I'll go out on a limb and say that some of his thunder will be stolen along the way by Tarasenko, the young gun who has shown exponential growth in his game this year.

    The third-year pro is a pure sniper who scores highlight-reel goals on a regular basis and whose offensive output has exploded season by season. Most likely, he's going to keep growing.

    Tarasenko's a first-time All-Star in 2015. He's fun to watch, which makes him exactly the sort of player who belongs in an All-Star Game.

    Honorable Mentions

    Patrick Kane, Jakub Voracek, Gustav Nyquist

Defense: P.K. Subban

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Age in January, 2020: 30

    2014-15 Stat Line: 45 GP, 11-20-31, plus-7

    Why He's an All-Star

    Let's turn that query over to colleague Dave Lozo, who makes it clear that he's not in agreement with Subban's absence from this year's All-Star roster.

    Next Friday, the NHL holds its fantasy draft. On Saturday, it's the skills competition. On Sunday, the least important part of the All-Star Game weekend happens—the game.

    That's what makes snubbing Subban so weird. He's tailor-made for all three days.

    Lozo's right: Subban's a bundle of energy both on and off the ice and showed his growing TV chops when he acted as a backstage reporter during the 2014 NHL Awards.

    He'd offer up dazzling moves during the skills competition and the game itself, but also add energy to the fantasy draft and the many player interviews that complement the on-ice action during the skills competition and the actual game.

    Subban has made great strides over the last couple of years in showing his dynamic personality in the best possible light. Five years from now, he'll be a can't-miss member of the All-Star proceedings—the jester who delivers the goods.

    Honorable Mentions for defense on next slide.

Defense: Aaron Ekblad

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Age in January, 2020: 23

    2014-15 Stat Line: 44 GP, 6-19-25

    Why He's an All-Star

    It seems that no one told Aaron Ekblad that young defensemen need time to develop their NHL games. At just 18 years old, the No. 1 pick from 2014 stepped confidently into the Florida Panthers lineup this season and is in the midst of a record-setting year.

    Ekblad has already broken the Panthers' team record for most points by a rookie defenseman, which was set by another No. 1 overall pick, Ed Jovanovski, with 21 points in 1995-96.

    He's also proving himself to be one of the most prolific 18-year-old blueliners in NHL history. Corey Masisak of NHL.com projects that he'll finish the season with the third-most points behind two all-time greats who played in much more offense-oriented eras: Phil Housley and Bobby Orr.

    Ekblad will likely become an All-Star within the next year or two. By 2020, he'll be one of the most dominant defensemen in the game. 

    Honorable Mentions: Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Kevin Shattenkirk

Goal: Michael Hutchinson

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    Lance Thomson/Getty Images

    Age in January, 2020: 29

    2014-15 Stat Line: 20 GP, 13-4-2, 2.00 GAA, .932 save percentage

    Why He's an All-Star

    Though Hutchinson's in his first full NHL season, he has announced his arrival with a flourish. Ranked second in save percentage and third in goals-against average, the rookie is putting up some of the best numbers in the league and has helped his Winnipeg Jets become serious playoff contenders for the first time since they moved four seasons ago.

    Jets fans are a passionate and vocal bunch, but their team doesn't usually get much media attention beyond the cold Canadian prairie. If Hutchinson can put together an impressive playoff performance this spring in front of a national television audience, he could find himself following a similar career trajectory that Carey Price rode on his way to becoming the NHL's best young goaltender.

    Honorable Mentions: Carey Price, Frederik Andersen, Ben Bishop, Braden Holtby

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted, current through Jan 20.

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